Feast Day: 8 August
St Dominic was born in Caleruega, Spain, in 1170. His parents were members of the Spanish nobility and related to the ruling family. His father was Felix Guzman, and was the royal warden of the village. His mother, Blessed Joan of Aza, was a holy woman in her own right.
According to one legend, his mother made a pilgrimage to an abbey at Silos. Legend says there were many signs of the great child she would bear. One of the most common legends says that during the pilgrimage, Joan had a dream of a hound leaping from her womb with a torch in its mouth. The animal “seemed to set the earth on fire”. His parents named him Dominic a play on the words Domini canis, meaning the Lord’s dog in Latin. An alternative, and possibly more likely story, says he was named after St Dominic de Silos, a Spanish monk who lived a century before.
It is known that Dominic was educated in Palencia, and he concentrated on theology and the arts. He spent six years studying theology and four the arts. He was widely acclaimed as an exemplary student by his professors. In 1191, a famine left many people desolate and homeless across Spain. Dominic sold everything he had, including his furniture and clothes, and bought food for the poor. When he sold his manuscripts, required for study, he replied, “Would you have me study from these dead skins when people are dying of hunger?”.
On two other occasions, Dominic attempted to sell himself into slavery to the Moors to obtain the freedom of others.
In 1194, Dominic joined a Benedictine order, the Canons Regular in Osma. He became the superior, or prior of the chapter, in 1201. In 1203, he joined his bishop, Diego de Acebo, on a trip to Denmark. His mission was to help find a bride for Crown Prince Ferdinand. Although an agreement was made, the princess died before she could depart for Spain. Her untimely death left the pair free to travel where they wished. They opted to travel to Rome, where they arrived in late 1204. The reason for this trip was that Bishop Diego de Acebo wanted to resign his office to pursue a new mission, the conversion of unbelievers.
Pope Innocent III did not wish the pair to travel to a distant land filled with unbelievers. Instead, the pair were asked to go to southern France, the region of Languedoc, to convert heretics back to the true faith. At that time, the Albigensian heresy was flourishing. This heresy was so dangerous that it even praised the suicide of its members, often by means of self-inflicted starvation. The heresy wrongly taught that all material things, including the human body itself, were fundamentally evil. The Christian faith teaches otherwise; in fact, it proclaims the very resurrection of the Body.
A group of monks, an order of Benedictines who returned to an ancient rule known as the Cistercians, were specifically assigned to combat the heresy through prayer, fasting and instruction, but they made little headway. According to writings from the period, some of the monks had become worldly and even pompous in their approach, surrounding themselves with material artefacts, which repulsed the Albigensians.
Diego and Dominic were austere by comparison to some of these worldly monks and this austerity and personal self discipline appealed to many of the heretics who had been deceived in their thinking. When Dominic debated the heretics, they could not defend themselves. Naturally, there is no defense against the truth. Many heretics threatened Dominic with violence. Despite the threats, Dominic traveled throughout the region, preaching and converting many back to Catholic Christian faith and practice.
Dominic recognised the need for a physical institution in Southern France to preserve the gains he made against the Albigensian heresy. The nobility needed a place to educate their children and Catholic women needed a safe place away from hostile heretics. Dominic established a convent at Prouille in 1206, which would become the first Dominican house. Bishop Diego and Dominic established their headquarters there. The monastery remains to this day as the Notre-Dame-de-Prouille Monastery.
In January 1208, the French nobility decided to take up arms against the heretics, after they murdered a papal legate. During the crusade that followed, Dominic consistently appealed for mercy for the heretics who were often the victims of atrocities. Dominic followed the armies and spent his time reconciling survivors to the Church.
Around this time, two things have been attributed to St Dominic, although both are questioned by historians.
The first is his status as the first Inquisitor of the Inquisition. The first formal Inquisition was established as early as 1184, when Dominic would have been a teenager. The purpose of the Inquisition was to combat heresy by bringing the accused to trial and giving them an opportunity to repent. Although modern depictions accuse the Inquisition of being a bloodthirsty institution that liberally employed torture and death, such insinuations are generally false. The Inquisition was the first to provide many of the rights afforded to accused persons in modern courts. It was very progressive for its time. There had been earlier courts to combat heresy, but these were not known as the inquisition. In any case, while Dominic devoted his life to combating heresy, he was by no means the first inquisitor. It is possible he did advise various judges on Catholic orthodoxy when questions arose. There are no primary sources from the period which say Dominic was directly involved with the Inquisition.
The second thing concerns the Rosary. According to legend, St Dominic received the Rosary during a period of prayer at the abbey in Prouille. This allegedly took place in 1214, during an apparition of the Virgin Mary. This legend is a matter of some dispute among historians, but while similar devotions existed before this time, there is no record of the Marian rosary in this form before. Also, the Marian Rosary became popular following this event, suggesting the legend may be true.
Dominic became famous as a result of his mercy and his work. Several other prominent religious figures of the time petitioned for Dominic to be made bishop. He refused at least three attempts at promotion, saying he would rather run away with nothing than become a bishop.
Dominic remained steadfast to his mission to establish an order dedicated to promoting morality and the expulsion of heresy. In July 1215, Dominic was granted permission to form his own religious order for this purpose. He was joined by six followers. The group followed a Rule of Life which included a strict routine of discipline, including prayer and penance. They also established a system of education. They often traveled the countryside to preach. His order was confirmed on 22 December 1216, and in 1217, Pope Honorius III dubbed Dominic and his followers “The Order of Preachers.”
In the summer of 1217, Dominic decided it was time to send his followers out to grow the order. The band of seventeen men was ordered to depart Prouille and to go out across Europe to spread the order. The decision was a fateful one which proved successful. New members began to appear in great numbers across the continent. After sending out his followers, Dominic headed to Rome to meet with the Pope and seek support for his mission. Shortly afterwards, Pope Honorarius III elevated Dominic to the rank of “Master of the Sacred Palace”. The position has been occupied by Dominican preachers since Dominic himself in 1218.
Pope Honorarius III issued a Bull, a papal decree, asking all clergy across Europe to support the Order of Preachers. He then asked Dominic to assist with a new mission. The Pope noted that the religious orders for women in Rome were becoming lax in their discipline. He desired to bring them together to restore their discipline. He assigned Dominic this task.
He gave Dominic an old church, San Sisto, which required renovation. Once complete, Dominic did the hard work of persuading several orders of nuns to relocate. Somehow, he accomplished this mission. However, the arrival of the nuns meant that Dominic’s small order had no place to call home in Rome. The Pope rewarded Dominic with a new church, the basilica of Santa Sabina. The basilica remains the headquarters of the Dominican order to this day.
Following these successes, Dominic began a period of travel that would continue for the rest of his life. His followers managed to establish several new houses which were growing rapidly.
According to writings about him, Dominic chose for himself only the most meager of provisions. His accommodations and clothes were described as “mean”. He refused to sleep on a bed. When he reached the edge of a town, he removed his sandals and walked barefoot, regardless of the path. He constantly prayed or issued instruction as he walked and whenever he faced discomfort, he praised God. His only possessions were a small bundle and a staff. In his bundle he kept a copy of the Gospel of Matthew and the Epistles of St Paul, which he would read over and over again. He always drew great crowds wherever he went.
As Dominic traveled, he recognised the need for written rules for his friars to follow. His order had previously adopted the Rule of St Augustine, but they recognised a need for a more formal constitution. This was worked out between 1220 and 1221. The constitution was revolutionary for its time. Every superior was to be elected for a limited period of time. The order was to be supported with alms, and still is to this day. Preaching and study were to be the dominant work of the Dominican orders.
By spring of 1221, Dominic went back to his travels. He began with a trip to Venice, then returned to Bologna, where he had established a convent in 1218.
In July of 1221, Dominic took ill with a fever. He asked to be laid on the ground, still refusing a bed. He exhorted his brothers to keep a spirit of humility and charity. After several weeks of illness, he made a last confession and a will, then passed away on 6 August. He died in the presence of his brother Dominicans. Dominic was just 51.
Dominic’s body was placed in a humble sarcophagus in 1223. It was then moved to a shrine in 1267. Pope Gregory IX canonised St Dominic on 13 July, 1234.
Saint Dominic is the patron saint of astronomers, the Dominican Republic and the innocent who are falsely accused of crimes. He is commonly depicted in icons with a dog, or lilies, holding a book. His hair always appears cut with a tonsure.
(Source: Catholic Online)
St Albert the Great
Patron of Blackfriars
Feast Day: 15 November
The saint and doctor of the Church, who would be known as Albertus Magnus, was born sometime before 1200. He was probably born in Bavaria, a fact we infer because he referred to himself as “Albert of Lauingen”, a town that still stands today in southern Germany.
We do not know for sure all the details of his family origins, but we know he was well educated. He attended the University of Padua. where he learned about Aristotle and his writings. This instruction in philosophy would become the foundation of his later work.
Sometime around the year 1223 or so, Albert experienced an encounter with the Blessed Virgin Mary. This encounter moved him so much that he chose to become a member of the Dominican Order. He thereafter studied theology. He excelled in his studies and later became a lecturer for the Dominicans at Cologne. He also traveled around the region to lecture gaining regional, then international acclaim. At the same time he started lecturing, Albert produced Summa de Bono, after collaboration with Phillip the Chancellor, who was a renown theologian from France.
In 1245, Albert became a master of theology under Gueruc of Saint-Quentin. He was the first German Dominican to achieve the title. He later went on to teach theology at the University of Paris, and became the Chair of Theology at the College of St James. One of his students was the famous Thomas Aquinas, who would also become a doctor of the Church and a saint.
Albert was very interested in Aristotle, and he made commentary on nearly all of Aristotle’s works. He also studied the teachings of several Muslim scholars. At this time, the Islamic world led Europe in terms of scholarship, science, and medicine.
In 1254, Albert became the provincial of the Dominican Order. By all accounts, he was a capable and efficient administrator.
Five years later, Albert participated in the General Chapter of the Dominicans, along with Thomas Aquinas and several other contemporary leaders of the Order. They created a program of study for the Dominican order and developed a curriculum for philosophy. From this course of study would later arise the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, in Rome. Today, the university, which is known as the “Angelicum”, is one of the foremost theological colleges in the world. It is still run by the Dominican order.
In 1260, impressed with his acumen, Pope Alexander IV appointed Albert as bishop of Regensburg. Although he was a bishop, Albert refused to ride a horse and went everywhere on foot. This seemingly unusual practice was consistent with the rules of his order. The life of a bishop did not agree with Albert and he resigned from his post in 1263. In that same year, Pope Urban IV accepted his resignation and reassigned him to preach about the Eighth Crusade to German-speaking people. The crusade was intended to recapture the city of Tunis in North Africa for Christendom, and was a total failure.
In his later years, Albert became renowned as a mediator. He mediated disputes between individuals as well as resolving a dispute between the people of Colonge and their bishop. He also founded Germany’s oldest university in that city.
Before his death, he mourned the early passing of his great student, Thomas Aquinas, who would later be recognised as a saint and doctor of the Church. Aquinas died in 1274. Albert spent his last years defending the work of Aquinas, which is among the most important work in the Church.
Albert became ill in 1278 and he died on 15 November, 1280.
During his life, Albert wrote 38 volumes covering topics ranging from philosophy to geography, astronomy, law, friendship and love.
Three years after his death, his grave was opened and his body found to be incorrupt. When his grave was again opened, centuries later in 1483, they only found his skeleton. His relics are presently found in the St Andreas church in Colonge.
Albert was beatified in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV. He was canonised and recognised as a doctor of the Church in 1931 by Pope Pius IX. He is the patron saint of scientists.
(Source: Catholic Online)
St Thomas Aquinas
Feast Day: 28 January
Thomas is believed to have been born in the castle of Roccasecca in the old county of the Kingdom of Sicily, which is now known as the Lazio region of Italy, in 1225. His parents were well-off, but, as the youngest son, Thomas was expected to enter the monastery. At five-years-old, Thomas began his education at Monte Cassino, where he remained until the military conflict between Emperor Frederick II and Pope Gregory IX reached the abbey. He was then transferred and enrolled at the studium generale in Naples.
It is believed that Thomas was introduced to his philosophical influences – Aristotle, Averroes, and Maimonides – at the university, where he also met John of St Julian, a Dominican preacher, who influenced him to join the recently founded Dominican Order.
When Thomas’s family learned of his decision, his mother, Theodora, arranged for him to be moved to Paris. When Thomas was travelling to Rome, his brothers captured him and returned him to their parents at the castle of Monte San Giovanni Campano. Thomas was held captive in the castle for one year as his family tried to keep him from joining the Dominican Order. In the year he was held, Thomas tutored his sisters and communicated with members of the Dominican Order. In an effort to change Thomas’s mind, two of his brothers hired a prostitute to seduce him, but legends claim Thomas drove her off with a fire iron. That night, two angels appeared to him in a dream and strengthened his resolve to remain celibate.
When Theodora realised she could not sway her son, she tried to preserve the family name by arranging for his escape through a window. She believed a secret escape was better than appearing to accept his decision.
Following his escape in 1244, Thomas turned to Naples, then to Rome, and met the Master General of the Dominican Order, Johannes von Wildeshausen. The next year, Thomas went to study at the Faculty of the Arts at the University of Paris, where he is believed to have met Dominican scholar Albertus Magnus (St Albert the Great), the Chair of Theology at the College of St James. In 1248, Thomas chose to follow Albert to the new studium generale at Cologne, rather than accepting Pope Innocent IV’s offer to appoint him abbot of Monte Cassino as a Dominican. Though Thomas hesitated, when they reached the university, Albert appointed him magister studentium.
Thomas was quiet and seldom spoke at the university, leading other students to believe he was mentally delayed, but Albert prophetically said: “You call him the dumb ox, but in his teaching, he will one day produce such a bellowing that it will be heard throughout the world.”
Following the conclusion of his education, Thomas taught in Cologne as an apprentice professor and instructed students on the books of the Old Testament. It was during this time he wrote Expositio super Isaiam ad litteram, Postilla super Ieremiam and Postilla super Threnos.
In 1252, Thomas returned to Paris to earn his master’s degree in theology. As an apprentice professor, he lectured on the Bible and devoted his final three years of his education to Peter Lombard’s Sentences. Thomas composed a commentary on Sentences, titled Scriptum super libros Sententiarium and wrote De ente et essentia.
The spring of 1256 saw Thomas appointed regent master in theology at Paris, and one of his first works after assuming the office was Contra impugnantes Dei cultum et religionem, in defense of mendicant orders, which William of Saint-Amour had been attacking.
Between 1256 to 1259, Thomas spent his tenure writing several books, such as Questiones disputatae de veritate, Quaestiones quodlibetales, Expositio super librum Boethii De trinitate and Expositio super librum Boethii De hebdomadibus. At the conclusion of his regency, Thomas was in the process of writing one of his most famous works, Summa contra Gentiles.
In 1259, Thomas completed his first regency and returned to Naples, where he was appointed general preacher. In September 1261, he was asked to lecture in Orvieto, and during his stay he finished Summa contra Gentiles, as well as Catena aurea and Contra errores graecorum.
In 1265, Thomas was summoned to Rome to serve as the papal theologian. He was later ordered by the Dominican Chapter of Agnani to teach at the studium conventuale, which was the first school to teach the full range of philosophical subjects of both moral and natural natures. While teaching, Thomas wrote his most famous work, Summa theologiae, which he believed was particularly useful to beginning students “because a doctor of Catholic truth ought not only to teach the proficient, but to him pertains also to instruct beginners”.
He continued to write and released several more books until 1268, when he was called to Paris for a second teaching regency. He was named regent master again and stayed until 1272. During this time, he wrote De virtutibus and De aeternitate mundi.
At the conclusion of his regency, the Dominicans called Thomas to establish a university wherever he wanted with a staff of whomever he wished. He established the university in Naples and took the regent master post. In 1273, Thomas was seen by the sacristan Domenic of Caserta to be crying and levitating in prayer before an icon of the crucified Christ at the Dominican convent of Naples, in the Chapel of Saint Nicholas. During this prayer, Christ is said to have told him, “You have written well of me, Thomas. What reward would you have for your labour?” Thomas replied, “Nothing but you, Lord.” Following this exchange, something happened but Thomas never wrote or spoke of it. He abandoned his routine and, when begged to return to work, replied, “I cannot, because all that I have written seems like straw to me.”
In May of 1274, Thomas was called to the Second Council of Lyon, where his works for Pope Urban IV would be presented. While journeying to the meeting, Thomas hit his head on the branch of a fallen tree and fell ill. He was escorted to Monte Cassino to recover, then he set out again. Unfortunately, he became ill once again and stopped at the Cistercian Fossanova Abbey, where the monks cared for him for several days. He received his last rites and prayed, “I receive Thee, ransom of my soul. For love of Thee have I studied and kept vigil, toiled, preached and taught…”
Thomas died on 7 March, 1274, during a commentary on the Song of Songs. Thomas’s remains were placed in the Church of the Jacobins in Toulouse on 28 January, 1369.
It is not known who beatified Thomas, but on 18 July, 1323, Pope John XXII canonised him.
His original feast day was 7 March, the day of his death. But because the date often falls within Lent, in 1969, a revision of the Roman Calendar changed his feast day to 28 January, the date his relics were moved to Toulouse. Pope Pius V declared St Thomas a doctor of the church, saying Thomas was “the most brilliant light of the Church”.
St Thomas’s remains were moved to the Basilique de Sant-Sernin, Toulouse, between 1789 and 1974. They were then returned to the Church of the Jacobins.
In the 16th century, the university in Paris that Thomas often taught at was renamed the College of St Thomas. In the 20th century, it was relocated to the convent of Saints Dominic and Sixtus before being transformed into the Pontifical University of St Thomas Aquinas.
St Thomas’s comments and philosophical writings are still debated today, and his aesthetic theories, such as the concept of claritas, deeply influenced the literary writings of James Joyce and Italian semiotician Umberto Eco. St Thomas is often depicted with an open book or writing with a quill.
(Source: Catholic Online)
St Catherine of Siena
Feast Day: 29 April
I, Catherine, write to strengthen you in the precious Blood of the Son of God, desiring to see you consumed in the fire of His charity. (From the letters of St. Catherine of Siena)
That is the way Catherine of Siena, the fiery young Dominican of the mid-14th century, might well have chosen to introduce herself to readers today. It was typical of this Dominican saint always to think and speak of herself only in connection with Christ and to present herself that way to others. For Catherine, as for Dominicans before and after her, “communication” was all-important; the single most important communication was Christ: with Him and of Him. Who was this woman, and why does she still have the ability to communicate with us, even today?
Catherine was born in 1347 in the Italian city of Siena. The 23rd of 25 children in a loving Catholic family, Catherine realised, even at a very young age, God’s call to give herself totally to Him. Having known the Dominican friars of Siena from childhood, she herself felt drawn to live the Dominican life. At the age of 16 or 17, she joined a group of Dominican laywomen who lived in their homes while dedicating their lives to prayer and active works of charity. Though Catherine’s family at first opposed her wishes, and the sisters themselves thought her too young to persevere, Catherine steadfastly grew in her conviction that God had called her to be a Dominican.
Catherine’s first years as a Dominican were spent in seclusion in her family home, where Christ formed her in the “communication skills” of deep prayer and conversation with Him. Fired with His love for her and her love for Him, Catherine then prepared for an active life of service to others. As the years went on, this service took the form of caring for the sick and poor, nursing plague victims, and counselling others who wished to grow spiritually. Gradually, the Lord let Catherine know that He wished her to bring her spiritual communication skills to bear on the political life in her country. This she did, growing at the same time in her own prayer life.
Finally, the Lord gave Catherine the task of influencing the Holy Father, Pope Gregory XI, to return to Rome from France, where he and the papal court had been residing for some years. This was perhaps her most difficult and painful mission, but always she was motivated by her love for the Church along with her profound respect for the Holy Father as the Vicar of Christ.
Catherine died in Rome in 1380 at the age of 33, having spent herself completely for the good of the Church. Dominicans today are called to communicate the same urgent truths as did St Catherine of Siena: That we are made for eternal life, that the desire to know God is our deepest hunger, and that love for Christ and His Church should be a fire that burns in us. Because she loved Our Lord, Catherine loved His people. Her example of active zeal fired by contemplation continues to stir the flame in Dominican men and women even today.
(Source: Nashville Dominicans, Our Saints & Blesseds)
St Martin de Porres
Feast Day: 3 November
Imagine a social worker’s case that goes something like this: two mixed-race children are abandoned by their father. The children’s food and clothing are inadequate. The older child, a boy, is made to go out and do the shopping and the household chores. The mother, distraught with grief at being abandoned, subjects the boy in particular to verbal and physical abuse, telling him that he is responsible for his father’s leaving. Yet the child is found to be sweet-natured, intelligent and obliging, tirelessly eager to please the mother who seems not to want him. What would you make of the situation?
The case just described is not from the 21st century but from the 17th. The boy just described, whose heroic charity was evident from the time he was young, grew up to become one of the Dominican Order’s most beloved saints, Martin de Porres.
Martin was eventually able to leave behind the greatest cross of his childhood when his father, a Spanish nobleman serving as a provincial official in Peru, finally acknowledged his dark-skinned 12-year-old son as legitimate and apprenticed Martin to a barber surgeon. Martin quickly acquired a following of patrons due to his charity and his skill in medical care.
However, after several years, Martin discerned Jesus calling him to enter the Dominicans in Lima. He shared two strong devotions dear to the Order and its saints: devotion to the Rosary and to the Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, and a powerful love of the Eucharist. Martin did not aspire to be a preaching friar, nor even a lay brother, but asked for the lowest position in the convent as a “helping” brother. After nine years and significant contributions to the community, he would go on to make solemn vows as a lay brother.
Martin was put to work doing menial chores, work that he welcomed and never complained of doing. On the contrary, he regarded his chores as if they were the highest honors. The community also used Martin’s previous training as a barber and a surgeon, eventually assigning him to the infirmary due to his remarkable expertise in healing. Stories abound of his cures: of his coaxing a sick friar’s appetite by miraculously producing out-of-season fruit, and of life-threatening fevers and infections instantly abating at the mere touch of Martin’s hand. It is said that he knew ahead of time whether a friar would recuperate or die.
St Martin could well be called the “St Francis of Assisi” of the Dominican Order for his love of animals. The story of his relocation of a large number of destructive mice, while incredible, is regarded as true. Recognising the havoc the rodents were causing, Martin was seen escorting an orderly line-up of several hundred mice out of the convent and into the garden. where they were promised a daily feeding by their kindhearted benefactor.
Perhaps with his own childhood in mind, Martin had a great love for street urchins, orphans and unwanted babies in Lima. It became known that Martin would accept unwanted children born out of wedlock. At first he placed them with his sister, Juana, but numbers grew so great that a separate home became necessary. By his own efforts, Martin built the Orphanage of the Holy Cross from the ground up. The orphanage still exists in Lima today as the Colegio de Santa Cruz.
Martin literally lived the Last Will and Testament of St Dominic: “Have charity, guard humility, make your treasure out of voluntary poverty.” His love of poverty was unaffected; he had been poor all his life, and would have nothing to do with what he considered “luxuries”. Martin wore the most ancient habit in the convent, yet never allowed it to look shabby. He preferred old shoes to new ones.
Martin died a holy death surrounded by the friars of the Holy Rosary Convent chanting the Salve Regina. His symptoms were the same as those that defined St Dominic’s last moments. In fact, toward the end, when asked, Martin indicated that his holy father was actually present, along with St Vincent Ferrer.
When Martin was canonised in 1962 by St. John XXIII, the Pope observed in the canonisation ceremony” “Martin was not an academic but possessed ‘the true science that ennobles the spirit,’ the ‘light of discretion’ of which St. Catherine of Siena speaks.” Guy Bedouelle adds that “the Church… has need of authentic intellectuals [but] looks first for holiness of attitude, the fruit of humility”. St Martin preached Christ through his charity, humility and poverty. He stands as a holy reminder that, in a religious order known for glorifying God by intellectual achievement, “the greatest of these is love”.
(Source: Nashville Dominicans, Our Saints & Blesseds)
Bl. John of Fiesole (Fra Angelico)
Feast Day: 18 February
Bl. John of Fiesole, popularly known as Bl. Fra Angelico, was a Dominican painter in the mid-15th century known for the beauty of his paintings and the holiness of his priestly life. Nicknamed “Angelico” by his brothers, his Dominican consecration and life are worthy of imitation as he preached Jesus Christ by his life, his words, and his paintings.
Given the name Guido at Baptism, this saint was born near Vicchio, in the vicinity of Florence, at the end of the 14th century. From his youth, he practiced the art of painting. Having entered the Dominican convent in Fiesole, he was given the name Brother Giovanni (Brother John). After ordination he held various responsibilities, one of which was prior of the convent in Fiesole.
Faithful to the promises he made as a Dominican, to preach the Gospel after having contemplated it in prayer, Fra Angelico put his creativity at the disposal of the Lord. With brush and paint in hand, he used his talents to transmit to all people the sublimity and the redemptive strength of the divine mysteries.
Between 1425 and 1447, Fra Angelico carried out his activity for the Dominican convents and other ecclesiastical institutes at Fiesole, Florence (most especially at the convent of San Marco), Cortona and Orvieto. The fame of his genius merited him the esteem of the Sovereign Pontiffs Eugenio IV and Nicolas V, who contracted him for the task of frescoing several rooms in the Vatican Palace (1445-49).
Fra Angelico died on February 18, 1455, in the convent of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome and was buried in the adjoining Basilica, where his body was covered by a simple slab on which was carved his portrait. With a personality that was uncomplicated and clear, Brother Giovanni had lived a poor and humble life, refusing honors and positions.
The virtue and the profound religious spirit which characterised the life of this artist and Dominican is reflected in his spirituality, his purity, and the luminosity of his art. Even before his official recognition as a blessed of the Church, he had been given by the faithful the title “Beato Angelico”. In a moving ceremony on October 18, 1984, Pope John Paul II, on his knees in front of Fra Angelico’s tomb, proclaimed him solemnly to be the universal patron of all artists.
The Incarnation was one of Fra Angelico’s favorite themes, and he painted more than 25 variations of it. His painted meditations, so needed at the time of the early Renaissance, are still necessary today. God became man to bring us closer to Himself by way of all things human. He makes all things new by fashioning them into possible vehicles of grace for us, so that by visible realities and concrete concepts, we can arrive at an understanding and a love of higher, invisible realities, all leading to God Himself.
(Source: Nashville Dominicans, Our Saints & Blesseds)
Bl. Jane of Aza
Feast Day: 2 August
Mother of Saint Dominic, Blessed Jane was born of the prominent d’Aza family and married Felix de Guzman. Three of their children spent their lives in the service of the Church: Anthony, Mannes and Dominic. An early source describes her as “virtuous, chaste, prudent, and full of compassion for the poor and the afflicted; among all the women of the region she was outstanding for her good reputation”.
According to tradition, Jane had a dream before her son’s conception in which she saw a hound racing through the world, igniting everything with a flaming torch. Troubled by this dream, she went to pray at the Benedictine abbey of San Domingo de Silos, located in a pleasant valley about 32km north of Caleruega. This dream was indeed prophetic. Dominic did ignite the world with sacred truth through preaching and teaching born from a life of dedicated prayer, love for the Word of God, and a burning desire to gain souls for Christ. It is widely believed that Dominic’s keen sensitivity to the sufferings of others, which he displayed from childhood on, was acquired from his mother, who, although from a noble family, was known for her compassion toward the poor and needy. From her, Dominic also acquired the habit of prayer.
(Source: Nashville Dominicans, Our Saints & Blesseds)
Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati
Feast day: 4 July
In May 1990, Pope John Paul II beatified a young Italian whom he called “the man of our century, the modern man, the man who loved much”. The photographs we have of this youth show a handsome young man with piercing dark eyes and an engaging smile. His death in 1925, at the age of 24, was thought by many to be a tragic loss, but the Holy Father offers us the example of the life of Pier Giorgio Frassati as a dramatic gain for our century. What was there about this young person – fun-loving, energetic, forthright in his convictions – that provides youth today with encouragement in their own search for goodness and truth? What was there about Pier Giorgio that makes “hunger and thirst for holiness” a not-unlikely driving force for personal success?
A brief biography of Pier Giorgio Frassati is quick to point out that this vibrant young person, full of jokes and good cheer, comes as quite a surprise to those who suppose that only the shy, sad, and retiring can qualify as saints. Born in Turin in 1901, to a well-known affluent Italian family, Pier Giorgio grew steadily and deeply in the graces of his baptism, despite quite a few challenges surrounding him. His father, an agnostic, was the founder and publisher of a liberal Italian newspaper. His mother, more sensitive and artistic by nature than her husband, saw to the religious upbringing of Pier Giorgio and his younger sister. But she worried as the boy grew older that he was becoming unnecessarily “extreme” in his personal devotion to the sacraments, prayer, and acts of charity. The lived expression of his Catholic faith, however, continued to mature in Pier Giorgio as he himself matured, and God’s grace built firmly on his lively, sensitive nature. The fact that his parents did not understand this was often a source of personal struggle for the boy. He loved his parents deeply, and the strain he saw developing in their marriage was a great source of sorrow for him as he grew older.
Pier Giorgio was educated first at home, then at a state school, and finally in a Jesuit-run institution. While cultivating a natural love for beauty and the arts, he often found formal studies difficult, much to the disappointment of his success driven father. As a teenager, Pier Giorgio became involved in both spiritual organisations open to students and groups devoted to active works of mercy among the poor. Increasingly, we are told, devotion to the Holy Eucharist and to the Blessed Virgin Mary were the focus of his prayer. He began to develop a deep spiritual life, which he was never embarrassed to share with his friends. His love for God fed his devotion to the service of the poor and needy, and even drove him to political activism in support of the Church’s social teaching.
A young man with a vast capacity for both leadership and friendship, Pier Giorgio inevitably influenced the young people in his circle. Not only was he the instigator of practical jokes and fun, but he also sought to draw them unashamedly to love God and live their faith. Pier Giorgio delighted in serving the poor, and looked upon his involvement in their lives as a privilege. His own parents often misunderstood the “excess” in him as an obstacle to his future and a sign of lack of ambition. We are told that Pier Giorgio at one point made the decision to forgo the pure and tender love he felt for a young woman his age, because he knew their relationship would be cause for further tension within his own family.
At the age of 21, Pier Giorgio furthered his spiritual aspirations by becoming a member of the Dominican Laity. Here he found encouragement for his Eucharistic and Marian devotion, and further outlets for his works of mercy.
Shortly before he was to receive his degree, Pier Giorgio contracted a severe case of polio, probably caught from the sick to whom he ministered. We are told that he neglected his own health because his grandmother was dying, and that after six days of intense suffering he died on July 4, 1925. His own family had not suspected how ill he was.
Pier Giorgio’s funeral was also a revelation to his family. The poor and needy whom he had served for so many years of his short life turned out in droves to mourn him. For their part, these poor were surprised to find out that this saintly young man who had been so solicitous for them was the son of such an influential family.
Pope John Paul II remarked in 1989, after visiting the tomb of Pier Giorgio, that he also had felt in his own youth “the beneficial influence of his example”. “He left the world rather young,” he said, “but he made a mark upon our entire century.”
(Source: Nashville Dominicans, Our Saints & Blesseds)
St Vincent Ferrer
Feast Day: 5 May
Born on January 23, 1350, the fourth child of the notary William Ferrer and his wife Constantia, Vincent Ferrer entered history with signs and wonders. His father, it is said, had a vision of his son as a Dominican, evangelising Spain and France, and his mother was told by an old woman, to whom she had given alms, “It is an angel you have within you”. A prophecy fulfilled, perhaps, in the title by which Vincent would be known in manhood: “Angel of Judgment”.
Vincent entered the Order at the age of 17, ignoring, but not without pain, the insistent pleas of his mother that he should not go. His formation started with studies in logic, forming the rational mind, followed by the natural sciences, then on to Scripture study, opening him to the wonders of Divine Revelation, and finally to Theology to fit him for the contemplation of God.
The sanctity of St Vincent hung, then, on a carefully structured framework of the knowledge of God. Yet he was no dry intellectual. His life was bathed in the miraculous. Miracles became so common in his life as to make one feel that a normal day was, for him, miraculous.
How can this saint of more than 600 years ago, scarcely living in the world of men, yet making such a concrete impact on it, be imitated? How can the Dominican of today follow a saint who wore a hairshirt, ate very little, led whole troops of flagellants, customarily ended his sermons with a miracle and converted whole populations? Raised on the saintly teaching of St Thomas Aquinas and zealous for the great end of the Order, the salvation of souls, St Vincent teaches the Dominican how to live his or her vocation to the full.
The Dominican ideal is embodied in St Dominic, and St Vincent clung to this ideal. There could be no St Vincent without St Dominic. How did he resemble our blessed founder? It is interesting to note that descriptions of St Vincent’s physical appearance are quite similar to those of St Dominic. Both are described as medium in height, with handsome faces, fairish colouring and large, beautiful eyes. Yet the most important resemblance between the two is the quality of priestliness that encompassed their whole being: Dominic and Vincent were priests of Jesus Christ.
Fra Angelico portrays St Dominic, full of wonder and devotion, at the foot of the Cross. There is also a painting of St Vincent being embraced by the Crucified. It represents the moment when, after one of Vincent’s long meditations on the Passion, he asked Our Lord if it was possible for Him to have suffered so much. Our Lord answered “Yes, and more!” then detached His arms from the Cross and bent over the friar. The love which was exchanged in that moment was hidden from the understanding of others, but its fruits were evident in Vincent’s urge to preach Christ across Europe in the wake of St Dominic.
This 14th century world of flagellants, miracles and mass conversions might seem strange to us. Yet St Vincent Ferrer’s penetrating knowledge of God and of himself, his love for Christ, His Church and her liturgy, his thirst for the salvation of souls and his humble abandonment to the will and the providence of God exemplifies that which every Dominican, indeed every Christian, must seek after and beg from Christ, who wishes all to share in His Divine Priesthood as a people “consecrated in the Truth”.
(Source: Nashville Dominicans, Our Saints & Blesseds)
St Antoninus of Florence
Feast Day: 10 May
Anthony Pierozzi, born on March 1, 1389, was soon nicknamed “Antoninus” (Little Anthony), either because of his small stature or his weak health. Thus began the life of the future Saint Antoninus, born to noble parents in Florence, Italy.
The influence of the Dominicans on Antoninus’s early life led him to seek admittance to the Dominican Order at the age of 15. Antoninus approached the prior of the convent in Fiesole, Brother John Dominic, with his request to be admitted to the Order. Perhaps noticing the weak health of the aspirant and not wishing to give an outright refusal to Antoninus’s request, Brother John Dominic told him to come back once he had memorised the Decretum of Gratian, or the Code of Canon Law at the time. To the prior’s surprise, the youth returned within the year, having accomplished the task required of him. He was thus admitted to the Order.
The love and zeal he had as a novice never left Antoninus. He became a great reformer, more by example than by word. Elected prior at a young age, Antoninus served as superior for many years. He, like his brother in St Dominic, St Thomas Aquinas, was concerned with the formation of the friars of the Order of Preachers. Hence, he prepared the Summa Moralis, a systematic and comprehensive presentation of Christian Moral Theology, which he wrote, as he said, during the summer and the winter of his life. Antoninus’s writings treated the practical aspects of living the faith.
Antoninus’s devotion to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and spiritual counsel earned him the title of Antoninus the Counselor. Such was his ability to instruct and to guide others.
Antoninus accepted into the Order Brother John of Fiesole the future artist Fra Angelico. Having an eye for recognising the gifts of others, Antoninus instructed Fra Angelico to prepare his own Summa Moralis, not in words but through his painting. Hence, when the new convent of San Marco was built, Prior Antoninus had Fra Angelico grace each of the friar’s cells with a painting based on a scene from the life of Christ.
After he was appointed Archbishop of Florence, Antoninus’s residence became known as the hostel for the poor, such was his generosity and service for victims of poverty. His sensitivity to the needs of others led him to found the “Men of St Martin”, in order to offer quiet support to the wealthy who had become indigent. Hence, the Archbishop lived out the works of mercy.
St Antoninus died May 2, 1459. His funeral Mass was celebrated by Pope Pius II. He was canonised on Trinity Sunday, 31 May, 1523.
(Source: Nashville Dominicans, Our Saints & Blesseds)
St Peter of Verona
Feast Day: 4 June
At the age of 16, a young man named Peter received the habit from the hands of St Dominic. Some 30 years later, his efforts to convert the heretics of Lombardy found consummation in his martyrdom. He is best known for his final act of piety, marking the scene of his martyrdom with the first words of the Creed in his own blood.
As with most of us, surrendering his pride, his dreams, or his life did not always come easily to Peter. Once, as a young religious, he was falsely accused of having female companions in his cell (he had, in a vision, been carrying on a spiritual conversation with three early virgin-martyrs). He complained to the Lord in prayer about this situation, but the Lord simply pointed to His Cross and reminded Peter of the false accusations that had placed Him there.
As he grew in his religious life, Peter developed his preaching abilities and drew great crowds. Sometimes, he preached even on a blistering summer day. To the dismay of the heretic hecklers, the Lord would answer his prayers and provide shade for the congregation. He prayed each day as he said Mass that he would be able to offer his life for the Lord who had died for him. Little did he know how that prayer would be answered in 1252 when he offered the ultimate sacrifice of his own life.
(Source: Nashville Dominicans, Our Saints & Blesseds)
St Pius V
Feast Day: 30 April
Can you imagine a hostile foreign navy just a few kilometres off the Italian coast, threatening not only to destroy Rome, but to wipe out Christianity in Italy and perhaps in all of Europe? This was the situation facing Pope St. Pius V in the autumn of 1571. Word had come that a huge navy from Turkey was on its way to try to add Italy to the Ottoman Empire and to make all Christians into Muslim slaves.
On 7 October, the Rosary Confraternity of Rome met at the Minerva, the church that served as Dominican headquarters, to recite the Rosary for a Christian victory over the Turkish navy. Meanwhile, in Venice, a Christian navy with ships from Venice, Naples, Genoa and Spain assembled under the leadership of Don John of Austria. They engaged the Turkish fleet on 7 October and routed the enemy in a sea battle near Lepanto, on the Greek coast. The Holy Father attributed the victory to Our Lady’s intercession after the campaign to pray the Rosary in Rome. He made 7 October into a feast day honouring Our Lady of Victory (the day was later changed to the Feast of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary).
Pope Pius V came by his Marian devotion naturally: before being made pope, he had been a Dominican friar. Born Anthony Ghislieri on 17 January, 1504, he entered the Dominican Order at age 14, taking the religious name Michael. After his religious profession and ordination, he became a lecturer in philosophy and theology, but his fine orthodox scholarship soon brought him to the attention of Pope Paul IV, the first great pope of the Catholic Counter Reformation. The future Pope Pius became active in working for the reclamation of the Catholic faith from doctrinal attack. As his Church career continued, he was made first a bishop and then a cardinal; he was elected pope in 1566. From his Dominican training, Pope Pius brought to the papal household a monastic austerity and certain customs which survive to this day, such as eating some meals in solitude and making these private meals more frugal.
Pope Pius V strengthened the Church during the difficult years following the Protestant Reformation. Notably, he was the Pope who excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I of England. He channeled all his energy into preserving the unity and integrity of the faith in Italy and to eliminating abuses such as absentee bishops. Such efforts on behalf of the Church resulted in attempts on his life. In pictures of St Pius, he is sometimes depicted kneeling before a crucifix, the feet of which are withdrawn to avert his kiss. The story is told of how one day an enemy had placed poison on his crucifix. When the Pope moved to venerate it, the feet of the corpus moved from its place.
With a great love for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Pope Pius V unified the liturgy by standardising the Roman Breviary and the Missal, thus allowing for uniform recitation of the Office and celebration of the Mass. He oversaw the publication of the definitive Latin catechism decreed at the Council of Trent. Fittingly, he declared St Thomas Aquinas, his great predecessor in the Dominican Order, a Doctor of the Church in 1567, and in 1570, he sponsored an edition of St Thomas’s complete works.
Pope Pius V’s greatest dream, however, was to found a Holy League for a Crusade to defend Christianity, and this dream was realised at the Battle of Lepanto. The victory there over the Turkish threat remains the source of this pope’s popular fame, and gave the Church not only the feast day on 7 October, but also the tradition of dedicating the entire month of October to Our Lady of the Rosary. In 1588, Pope Sixtus V had the remains of Pope Pius transferred to the Basilica of St Mary Major, in Rome, a permanent tribute to Pius’s love of the Blessed Mother and her Rosary.
(Source: Nashville Dominicans, Our Saints & Blesseds)
St John of Cologne
Feast Day: 9 July
His Decree of Canonisation praised St John of Cologne as a “great athlete of Christ”. As his title suggests, this Dominican priest is best known for the victory of his martyrdom, but it was his lifelong training in fidelity, lived through the Dominican charism, which prepared him for this final conquest.
St John attended the University of Cologne in the middle of the 16th century. Although we don’t know much about his early life, we can learn something about it from John’s cultural setting. At this time, western Germany, Belgium and Holland were dominated by Calvinist teaching, which viewed human nature as completely corrupt and denied the healing action of grace. As a result, even many Catholics had lost a sense of the reality of the sacramental life. Not unlike today, many in John’s age found moral absolutes hard to identify, and faith had become relegated to the private sphere.
Amid these uncertain cultural currents, John discovered the solid foundation of truth when he began his studies at the University of Cologne, then recognised as one of the best educational institutions in Europe. Not only did John acknowledge intellectual truth, but he also came to know the Person of Truth, Jesus Christ, and followed His call to the Dominican Order. He entered the Order at Cologne and received his formation there.
After completing his education, John was assigned to a parish in the Netherlands village of Horner, where he served for 20 years. Although we do not have records of the sermons of John of Cologne, his final actions give the most eloquent testimony about what he considered the purpose of his priestly vocation. In the spring of 1571, a group of militant Calvinists, along with a band of pirates, began raiding Dutch villages, particularly focusing on the arrest and capture of the Catholic clergy. In June of that year, the neighbouring town of Gorkum was attacked, and the clergy were captured. Fifteen priests, the majority of them Franciscans, had been imprisoned.
Upon hearing of their arrest, John immediately disguised himself and sought to bring these priests the consolation of the sacraments. For several days he was successful, but was eventually captured, along with three other priests. These 19 were imprisoned in Gorkum from 26 June until 6 July, undergoing much abuse as they were asked to deny the tenets of the Catholic faith.
On 6 July, the 19 martyrs were transferred to the prison at Dortrecht. Along the way, villagers were charged admission for viewing the torture of the priests. Once in Dortecht, each of them was asked to deny belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and in the primacy of the Pope. Each one remained steadfast in his profession of faith. Despite an order from the Dutch ruler William of Orange that the priests not be harmed, they were cruelly mutilated and hanged on the night of 9 July, 1572. The Dominican John of Cologne, great athlete of Christ, had won his final victory of martyrdom. Along with his companions, he was beatified on 14 November, 1675, and canonised on 29 June, 1865.
(Source: Nashville Dominicans, Our Saints & Blesseds)